TapMicrosoft – Nanny knows best?

24 Apr 2012 09:40 by Rick

Do you like to keep a few shortcuts on your desk top? Those things that you need often or might need quickly, or those in obscure places that are hard to remember. I do. I don’t like a cluttered desktop but there are some things that are easier there. I have links to stuff on networked drives (that maybe require a mount or VPN before they are visible), links to utility programs like KeePass and PuTTY and some scripts that do routine things.

Microsoft in its wisdom (Windows 7) has decided to clean these up for us on a regular basis and if they are broken or not recently used then “tidy them up” for us—i.e. delete them. It wouldn’t be so bad but there are bugs in it, so it often deletes stuff that is frequently used and are not broken by any definition. This is not directly configurable, you have to turn off the whole of the maintenance daemon but it is not a great loss. Open the Control Panel and go to Troubleshooting (or System and Security—Find and Fix Problems on some systems). Now select the Change Settings in the left margin and switch it off. Done.

You can run it manually occasionally for the other benefits—same panel at the bottom is Run Maintenance Tasks. On the panel that pops up first click Advanced at the bottom and un-select Apply Repairs Automatically. The other things it does is check logs that may be wasting disk space, that the system time is set correctly and looks for disk errors. The last is the only really useful one.

Addendum: I notice that it also affects entries in Programs\Startup as well!


2 Apr 2012 17:35 by Rick

One advantage of traveling by bus is that I get to read the paper in the morning.

The disadvantage is that it is the Metro.

So the double page article this morning looked like it would be their usual fare—titilating comments about the invention of Otto Titsling with statistical detail on sizes and suitable pictures etc. But I was wrong. Apart from some of that stuff from the subeditors in the form of big circular bullet points, the remainder of the article was remarkably sensible. It seems that as a nation we are good at recycling quality outer clothing via charity shops but think that they don’t want underwear. In the case of the ladies brassier, they do. It is a valuable and prized commodity on the third world second hand market and Oxfam are trying very hard to aid women in Africa by making a special effort to supply some of the demand.

So, ladies:— sort through your drawers and pass any serviceable but surplus over the shoulder boulder holders to your nearest Oxfam shop where they will be gratefully received.

TapThe S.S. Great Britain arrives in New York

31 Mar 2012 23:33 by Rick

Breaking news 28 August, 1845. I was reading Volume 1, Issue 1 of Scientific American today and this article was at the head of page 2.

The text reads…

This mammoth of the ocean, which has recently arrived from Liverpool, has created much excitement here as well as in Europe; being in fact the greatest maratime curiosity ever seen in our harbour. She was built by the Great Western Steam-Ship Company, at Bristol, England. Her keel was laid in July 1839, and she was launched in July, 1844, with her engines and machinery on board. She is composed entirely of iron, which renders her perfectly safe against accidents by fire, and even an explosion of her steam-boilers could not sink her, as she is divided into five different compartments, each being thoroughly water-tight, so that in case of accident even one perfect division would float the vessel and cargo. The length of the keel is 290 feet; total length 322 feet; beams 51 feet; depth 32 feet 6 inches. She has four decks, the upper one being flush and is 308 feet long; the second deck consists of two promenade saloons, one of which is 110 feet long by 22 wide. The third deck consists of dining saloons, the first of which is 96 by 30 feet. The saloons are 8 feet 3 inches high and surrounded with berths of which there are sufficient to accommodate 252 persons. Her burden is 3,600 tons, and her engines are capable of working 1,000 horse powers. She has four engines united, which with the boilers, weigh 540 tons. The main shaft is 28 inches in diameter in the centre, and 24 inches in the bearings, and weighs nearly 16 tons. The power of the engines is applied to the single submerged propeller, on the screw principle, and 15 feet 6 inches in diameter. The engines and boilers occupy a space of 80 feet in the middle portion of the vessel; the boilers are heated by 24 fires, and will contain 2,00 tons of water. She has six masts, four of which are hinged for lowering when head winds set in; the masts are made of iron having iron wire rigging, so that very little surface is presented to the resistance of the atmosphere; the quantity of canvas carried, is about 4,900 square yards. Upwards of 1,500 tons of iron have been used in her construction; her draught of water is about 16 feet, and the displacement of water equal to 3,200 tons.

The great Britain was visited while at Liverpool by 33,000 persons, and probably by an equal number at London. During the few days since her arrival at New York, she has been visited by about 12,000 people, who have paid 25 cents for the gratification. If there is anything objectionable in the construction or machinery of this noble ship, it is the mode of propelling her by the screw propeller; and we should not be surprised if it should be, ere long, superceded by paddle wheels at the sides; as there can be little doubt that such an improvement would increase her speed to 18 miles per hour, and render her the swiftest ship on the ocean.

A modern photograph of her, restored, can be found here.

TapSpam Timeshare Phone Calls

9 Mar 2012 12:58 by Rick

I expect everyone gets these occasionally, but the situation is worse if you are already a timeshare owner as we are. The calls we get are from people like Bonus Week Breaks and The Gift Company who claim to know you and also claim that they are either part of or affiliated to RCI. RCI are the exchange organisation we belong to, another one is Interval International. (don’t the web sites look similar—the phone number is the same as well! Another one I have found is The Ultimate Holiday Package.)

I complained to RCI about this (knowing at the back of my mind that it was all bogus) and got this reply (extract).

We would advise you to always ask the caller for your RCI membership
number when receiving any calls regarding your timeshare. We are aware
some of these companies are referring to themselves as RCI. If they can
not provide you with the information you request i.e. membership number,
deposited weeks in your account, etc, we would advise you to terminate
the call. We have no control over these calls but we are gathering
information so that we can pursue these companies and put an end to any

Please be advised that RCI uphold the Data Protection Act and we do not
pass member information to 3rd party companies. We are at a loss as to
how these companies have retrieved your personal details.

The answer to the last question is that they got the information from some of the resorts who are less fussy about their clients privacy.

We are, in general very satisfied with our timeshare experience but the nuisance of these calls has tempted me to get our phone number changed.

MindTimeshare has an article about these companies and other Timeshare frauds.

TapMagic Mouse Misbehaving?

25 Feb 2012 10:01 by Rick

Is your Apple Magic Mouse behaving strangely? Mine was juddery sideways and wouldn’t move vertically at all, though the scroll was ok. I tried switching it off, back on and reconnecting but that made no difference. The fix was rather surprising. Pick it up and gently but firmly thump in back down onto the desk. Considering that the only mechanical part is the click button this is a bit odd. We call it in the trade “The drop test” and is often works because it can reseat or jiggle connectors and socketed chips but I can’t see that that applies here. Anyway, try it and see.

TapWhat is a media download?

20 Feb 2012 12:46 by Rick

When buying a CD you actually buy two things; the plastic media and an implicit licence to play it. The plastic is a thing—a property, the licence is not. You cannot copy the content or play it for an audience; that is not part of the licence. This has been relaxed a little to allow the making of backup copies and alternative media for cars & MP3 players etc. but these copies do not contain the implied licence. If you sell the CD, the licence transfers with it. You can also give it away or bequeath it.

Unfortunately (!) there is no written copy of these licence terms anywhere, it is even worse than the shrink-wrapped licence terms on software. But, it is really no different to the situation that has always existed with books but few people thought of copying those – at least not in their entirety.

For this reason I have been careful to retain the physical media for all of my ripped digital (and analogue) music. These are the licences to own/play. If you sell or give away the original CD you should also destroy any ripped, duplicated or backup copy. You must not sell or give away any duplicates as these do not contain the implicit licence.

How about legitimate downloaded media—you don’t own it, it is a license to listen—a license isn’t property, therefore you can’t sell it. There is no physical media to which to attach the licence. I think the license is effectively for life—your life—so you can’t sell it, give it away or bequeath it. For this reason, even disregarding the production & distribution costs, downloads should be cheaper than physical media as they have a lower long term value. This may all be written into the iTunes and whatever terms and conditions, but I doubt it.

The public perception problem is that the button used to obtain the music is marked “Buy” not “Rent” or “Licence” which blurs the understanding.

If it is not “property” then you can’t steal it. You can be an unlicensed USER of a service, but you can’t STEAL it, you are not depriving someone of anything tangible.

There has been some discussion of this recently. Which Magazine raised the issue of a looming problem. What is going to happen to all of the digital media people have bought when they die? Children brought up on their parents music collection will suddenly find that is no longer available to them as it would have been when they had the physical media. There are issues of trying to transfer or merge accounts; something that the media companies either refuse or cannot do.

Matt Gemmell has an interesting article on his view of why piracy is rampant (beware strong language; so bad in fact, that I wish I didn’t have to link to it) and he has a good point but blurs the ethics somewhat. I agree that almost everyone wants to be honest, but the tipping point is not price. If something is just expensive then we go without. The thing that tips us over the edge is being ripped off. For example being made to pay over and over again for the same thing just because the distribution format has changed; just like we used to copy our records to cassette to play them in the car. Or, as in the example above, being made to pay again because the original owner has died. Curious Rat comments on this and mostly misses the point. First piracy is not theft, you need to understand the difference, but also he twists the arguments back in ways that the original author never intended (nor said). I don’t think Matt would object to you pirating his iPhone app if the DRM gets in the way—so long as you have paid for it in the first place.

Some related points…

When they talk about Intellectual Property (IP) Rights, that really refers to the full rights which includes copying, marketing and distribution.

Re-digi have tried creating a market for “used ” iTunes—by ensuring that all copies from the seller were deleted. I think they are just creating a honey-pot for lawyers.

An interesting point is that “used” copies are indistinguishable from “new” ones which is what worries the retailers; why buy a new one if you can’t tell the difference.


19 Dec 2011 09:57 by Rick

Although they say that everything on facebook is there for ever, in practice the visibility of any one item is very transient. This fantastic rap came up on Radio Free Babylon last week and has already dropped off the front page. I think it is worth preserving so I reproduce it here (with thanks and slightly improved formatting). All credit to the original authors.

We’re reformed. We’re fundamental.
We’re traditional. Experiential.
We’re Shakers. We’re Quakers.
We’re Baptists. We’re Trappists.
We’re Friends. We’re with the Brethren.
We’re addicts. We’re reverends.
We’re insecure. We’re not so sure.
We’re being cured. We’re not so pure.
We’re Charismatic. We’re problematic.
We’re Latter Rain. We feel your pain.
We’re old fashioned. We’re progressive.
We’re laid back. We’re aggressive.
We’re a throwback to the fast track.
We’re with the Jew—and He’s with you.
We’re disciples. We’re students.
We’re careless—and imprudent.
We’re sinners. We’re winners.
The air seems thinner. We’re at the dinner.

Where you’ve been and where you’re gonna be is not for us to see.
What you did and what you’re gonna do is not what qualifies you.
Is it true that we’re just what we perceive—or what we think we believe?
We’re just trying to finish the float—and there’s room in the boat.

TapStuffed for Christmas by FirstBus

2 Dec 2011 17:11 by Rick

Throughout November and December we are replacing our current ticket and MCV machines with new smart card enabled machines.


Actually—no! You are introducing new “Dumb cards.”

The old ones were open season tickets which were validated on first use and then available for 7 or 31 days. I buy a wad of them when they are on discount and use them as needed. The new ones have a start and end date on them when purchased so you have to know in advance when you are going to want them. No late booking of holidays then else lose a chunk of your season ticket.

Anyway, these are only interim tickets read by eye-of-driver as the full network of machines won’t be installed and operational until April (according to the Council) then real smart tickets become available, but I wonder just how smart they will be and in whose favour.

TapTV Licencing for Students

3 Nov 2011 10:46 by Rick

It is as well to make sure you are doing the right thing with your TV licence because the agency is notoriously unforgiving, very hard to convince about unusual situations and can harass you mercilessly. They have recently clarified the requirements regarding internet watching and laptops etc. The relevant rules are&#8230.

Watching TV on the internet
You need to be covered by a licence if you watch TV online at the same time as it’s being broadcast on conventional TV in the UK or the Channel Islands.

Your parents’ TV Licence will not cover you while you are away at university unless you only use a device that’s powered solely by its own internal batteries. You must not plug it into the mains when using it to receive TV.

So it looks like you may be able to get away with a laptop without a licence so long as it is either running on battery and internet (no aerial and the charger is not plugged in—that includes not using an external monitor) or you are only using catch-up services. But I suspect it will not be easy to convince them if they turn up on your doorstep. If you use a TV capable for reception as a computer monitor it can be incredibly hard to convince them that you don’t receive programs on it. Make sure there are no internal aerials or cables nearby capable of connecting to a rooftop aerial e.g. provided by your landlord.

You don’t need a licence during the summer holidays
Good news. If you move out of your term-time address for the summer months, you can ask us to give you back the cost of the licence for that time – which could be around £37. (As long as your licence is still valid for at least three full calendar months and you don’t need it again before it expires.)

So remember to apply for a refund when you finish for the year.

TapBT Wi-Fi users beware

1 Nov 2011 14:34 by Rick

The BT broadband offering has a popular feature which allows you to access the internet from your mobile devices even when away from home. When everyone installs their Wi-Fi routers the process simultaneously sets up another Wi-Fi SSID called “BT Fon” (or sometimes “BT Openzone”, and I have seen both at once). With agreement (I think) these are configured so any BT user can sign in to them using their home account details and gain access to the internet via your connection. For privacy, identity and accounting this is kept entirely separate from the home owner’s connection and the only cost to them is a possible bandwidth reduction caused by the extra load. In practice this is a small price to pay for the ability of friends and relations to gain internet access without knowing your security code. You may get a few passers by briefly tapping your connection but they are not going to do it persistently because they have to be BT broadband customers themselves which they are paying for. It may be more of a problem if you live next to a park or café but not too serious.

This all sounds good—you are providing a service for others and in return they provide a service to you when you need it. There are millions of customers and hence millions of potential free Wi-Fi hotspots for you to use. There is security, in the form of an account and password, to verify identity which protects BT’s and the home owner’s interests.

What there is not is any security to protect the mobile user. The catch is that the Wi-Fi hot spot is only identified by it’s name (“BT Fon” or “BT Openzone”)—but anyone can create an SSID called that! So you don’t know if you are connecting to a real BT service or a fake one. This is true with any Wi-Fi hotspot of course, but much more insidious for these because of their ubiquity. There is a sign on process the first time you use one (and even that can be faked) but it is not required for subsequent connections as it is done automatically. For smart phone users it is potentially even more serious. As is pointed out in this Guardian article from April, phones sometimes connect even while in your pocket. O2 iPhones are configured to do this by default because of a partnership between O2 and BT.

BT have known about this problem for some time but have so far declined to do anything about it or even let anyone know. This is disappointing considering that their security team is one of the most respected in the industry.

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